Posted 04/15/2014: Back in late August at a rally outside of St. Louis, House Speaker Tim Jones said one of his top priorities of the 2014 legislative session was to make Missouri the 25th Right to Work state in the nation. He said making the Show Me State a Right to Work state would give workers more freedom and prevent them from having union dues go to causes the worker doesn't support.
Fast forward to mid-April and Jones has hit a road block. HB 1770 was put to the test with a vote last Wednesday, April 9. Every House Democrat voted against it and they were joined by 19 Republicans. However, 78 Republicans voted for it, giving the measure it's initial stamp of approval. Good news for Republicans? Not quite. A "constitutional majority" of 82 representatives is needed for a bill to pass the House. This vote leaves House Republicans 4 votes short. To be fair, 11 Republicans didn't vote on the bill at all and 2 voted "present." Some Republicans who didn't vote at all were in the Capitol at the time the vote took place. One such Republican is Budget Chairman Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County. He told the Associated Press after the vote that he didn't hear the bell that signals "it's time to vote," but even if he did, he wasn't going to go vote.
Stream's notable absence from the House chamber during the tense minutes of the vote underscores how politically sticky Right to Work is for Republicans. Many from Jackson County in Kansas City and St. Louis County do not want to anger labor activists. Others are very critical of Right to Work because they think it's just bad policy. One such person is House Economic Development Chairwoman Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles. She actually appeared at a pro-labor rally at the Capitol a couple of weeks ago and denounced Right to Work. Remember that she was the person who ushered through the Boeing incentives package back in December.
After the vote, Jones said he will talk with the Republicans who didn't vote and see where they are on the issue. With 4 and a half weeks left in session, House Republicans are conflicted and Senate Democrats would almost certainly filibuster if the bill makes it to the Senate. What does that all mean for one of Jones' top priorities? Stay tuned...
Well, I was wrong.
Granted, they have perfected many bills since mid-February and they have passed bills out of the House and Senate, but very few bills have been signed by Gov. Jay Nixon. One of those bills Nixon signed is a bill that would limit how much insurance companies could charge chemotherapy patients for pills they take orally. Besides that, no major progress has been made on key issues leading Republican lawmakers set out on accomplishing in January.
Right to work legislation has not passed the House, despite being a top priority of House Speaker Tim Jones. The Senate has passed their version of a bill dealing with unaccredited schools, but the House has yet to take up the Senate bill or their own version. Voter ID legislation has been discussed in the House, but has not made it to the Senate. And the biggest issue of the session has not seen any tangible progress.
Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, has been the point man between the Senate and Nixon's administration on working to produce a tax cut bill that can pass both houses and be signed by the governor. However, little progress has been made on a bill halfway into the 2014 session. Kraus told me he wants as big of a tax cut as possible, but he realizes he won't get that, so he's trying to broker a compromise with Nixon. However, his fellow Senate Republicans are having none of it. Multiple senators have told me and stated publicly it is because they don't trust Nixon. That is what's holding up a potential tax cut for Missourians.
Many issues are in front of the General Assembly when they return from their spring break on March 24. Appropriations bills have to be passed by May 9 and the session ends on May 16 at 6 p.m. I would expect many late nights as members work on important legislation that impacts millions of Missourians.
Now we're over a month into the session and the Assembly is working at a snail's pace. Very few bills, if any, have been passed out of either chamber. The only things seeing action are the committee rooms. There have been hundreds of committee meetings since January 8. I have covered a hearing every day I have been at the Capitol except for this past Wednesday. That was the first day where I spent my entire day covering bills that were given INITIAL approval (they have not passed... yet) by the House.
The chamber that has made the most noise in the first month of the session is the Senate. They have taken up a bill by Republican Sen. Brian Nieves to nullify federal gun laws in Missouri. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is familiar. The previous gun nullification bill failed by 1 vote in the veto session last September. Nieves says he has fixed the problematic language, but Democrats aren't buying it and as one senator told me, they're confident it won't stand on its own merits in court. This week, however, was a huge week for the bill.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, offered an amendment that would require gun owners to report within 72 hours if their firearm was either stolen or missing. She got Republicans to include the amendment in the bill and from what I was told, Nieves was on board with the amendment. Then the National Rifle Association (NRA) got into the fray. They expressed reservations on the amendment, saying it would create a de facto gun registry, something they are adamantly against. Therefore, they came out entirely against the bill. That set off a firestorm in the Capitol (or as we like to call it on Twitter, "#MOLeg"). They told their members to contact their senators and ask that they vote against the bill even though it is gun-friendly in its nature. Nasheed and Nieves held a joint press conference on Thursday and addressed the situation. On Saturday, Nieves posted multiple Facebook posts and tweets which said the NRA was "lying" about the bill.
"I'm Shocked & Disgusted by the dishonest tactics of an organization I've always had a Great Relationship with! NRA is LYING about SB613," Nieves wrote on Twitter.
Republicans in the Senate are also working on a tax cut bill that would be amicable to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, but that seems to be on hold since Nieves and the NRA, once great allies, are now in a public fight.
After finishing an interview with one Democratic representative Wednesday, he said the House has only debated bills for 4 hours this session. Yes, he said 4 hours. That's all in the roughly 22 days they've been in session. I was quite frankly shocked to hear the representative say that. I imagine the pace of things will briskly quicken in the month they have before their "spring break" in mid-March.
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